Low-carbohydrate diets may be better for reducing your heart disease risk and losing weight than low-fat diets, according to a study published in Annals of Internal Medicine in September 2014. They can also be helpful for controlling blood sugar levels for those with diabetes. It isn't always easy figuring out just which foods are low in both sugar and carbohydrates, however, without spending a lot of time reading labels.
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Low-Carb, Low-Sugar Meat, Poultry and Seafood
In general, meat, poultry and many types of seafood are all low in carbohydrates and contain little, if any, sugar. Battered and fried chicken or seafood and imitation seafood are among the few exceptions. Otherwise, most of these protein-rich foods contain less than 5 grams of carbohydrates per 3-ounce serving. This doesn't mean you should eat an unlimited amount of meat on a low-carbohydrate diet because you still need to watch your saturated fat intake to stay healthy.
Eggs and Low-Carb Dairy Products
Eggs are naturally rich in protein and low in carbohydrates, with a whole egg having less than 1 gram of sugar or carbohydrate. Because of the natural sugar, lactose, found in milk, most dairy products contain at least some carbohydrates and sugars. Most cheeses tend to be naturally low in these sugars, with less than 1 gram of carbohydrate in each 1-ounce serving, although a few types have slightly higher carbohydrate contents. A 1/2-cup serving of low-fat cottage cheese has about 3 grams of carbohydrates, and the same amount of whole-milk ricotta has almost 4 grams of carbohydrates. A single-serving container of nonfat plain Greek yogurt has about 6 grams of carbohydrates, almost all from sugar, and other types of yogurt are even higher in carbohydrates and sugar. Milk is a lot higher in carbs, with about 12 grams per cup regardless of the fat content of the milk.
Low-Carb Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds can be a delicious low-carb snack. Each 1-ounce serving of pecans, peanuts, hazelnuts, walnuts or almonds has 5 grams of carbohydrates or less. The same is true for a tablespoon of sunflower seed butter or cashew butter made without added sugars. Peanut butter has about 7 carb grams in 2 tablespoons. Pine nuts, mixed nuts and cashews all have less than 9 grams of carbs per ounce.
Low-Carb Nonstarchy Vegetables
Although starchy vegetables, such as potatoes and peas, tend to be high in carbohydrates, the same isn't true of many nonstarchy vegetables. For about a gram of carbohydrates, you can eat a 1/2-cup serving of raw endive or a cup of raw spinach, kale or lettuce. Other vegetables with less than 5 grams of carbohydrates per serving include cabbage, cucumber, broccoli raab, canned mung beans, cauliflower, summer squash, mushrooms, asparagus, okra, broccoli, raw yellow tomato, bell peppers and cooked spinach. Fill half your plate with these vegetables, and you'll get lots of fiber, vitamins and minerals without consuming too many grams of sugar or carbohydrates.
While fruits tend to be naturally higher in sugars, it's still possible to eat a clementine or a persimmon without going over 10 grams of carbohydrates or sugars. A cup of watermelon or strawberries has just under 12 grams of carbohydrates, and in the case of strawberries, 3 grams come from fiber. A cup of peaches, apples, raspberries, cantaloupe, blackberries or avocado has less than 15 grams of carbohydrates. Avocado also has 10 grams of fiber, and raspberries and blackberries have about 8 grams of fiber per cup, making them among the best fruit choices for those counting carbs.
Carbohydrates Vs. Net Carbs
Some low-carb diets recommend counting net carbs instead of total carbs. Net carbs are typically defined as total carbs minus carbs from fiber and sugar alcohols. This type of calculation doesn't necessarily reflect the effect of the food on blood sugar levels accurately, according to the American Diabetes Association, so diabetics shouldn't use net carbs when counting carbs for blood sugar control. But diabetics can safely subtract the grams of fiber from the total carbs if a food has more than 5 grams of fiber, according to the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension.
- Annals of Internal Medicine: Effects of Low-Carbohydrate and Low-Fat Diets: A Randomized Trial
- American Diabetes Association: Taking a Closer Look at Labels
- University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension: Carbohydrate Counting
- USDA Nutrient Lists: Vegetables and Vegetable Products
- USDA Nutrient Lists: Dairy and Egg Products
- USDA Nutrient Lists: Meat, Poultry and Seafood
- USDA Nutrient Lists: Nut and Seed Products
- USDA Nutrient Lists: Fruits and Fruit Juices